Reverse Mentoring… Time for the Old Dog to learn some new tricks of the game

By : |October 7, 2019 1

I own a new most updated phone which was recently purchased. It is a struggle to understand and get used to the new settings and features. Where do I go to solve my issue, where can I seek the answers to my questions? I had no clue until my daughter came to my rescue to solve the current issues on hand and explained to me how to use the gadget.

This led me to think that over the years I have been coaching / teaching / explaining her different things and now she is becoming my coach/mentor/ problem resolution person. She is my go-to person for the phone at-least.

Do we all face or have similar kinds of situations/problems at our own work place/organization? To larger degree, Yes, but we all fail to recognize the issue and its relevant impact. We do not want to acknowledge our own shortcomings as they would show us in a bad light and put our own experience to shame.

What are the current market demands? What is the organizations’ expectation from myself? well we all need to understand.

          0 Larger and more global organizations function
          0 Impact of changing global economy is relevant to our work
          0 Leaner organizational structures, less is more
          0 More dynamic labour markets
          0 The increased importance of human capital (well that is the only raw material one needs in the system)
          0 Enhanced leader pipeline to offset demographic trends
          0 Growing leadership capacity
          0 Developing strong leaders

The organization have a decent budget for their L&D department, who are in turn tasked to upgrade skills of their current employees or make them more deploy-able. Many companies try to increase diversity with earnest training sessions. Has this ever-going experiment yielded results? What is the ROI that the L&D team can show? Is the budget really justified? No, I am not against the training/ workshops conducted (well that’s my own bread & butter), but I am questioning the method and the way the money has been spent.

If one sees the trends and graphs of the L&D, there is hardly any sessions/workshops planned for the Leadership team. At times, the argument is that LT does not have time available to attend these sessions, if they do not have time for improving their own productivity, which in turn impacts the whole organization, I always wonder, how could they improve their own business unit or the organization and take it to the next level.

How do we overcome this issue?

Well, the solution is “Reverse Mentoring”.

Reverse Mentoring is a novel concept that is gaining popularity in today’s fast-paced, tech-savvy world. Have you ever wondered what reverse mentoring is all about? Here are some answers to a few frequently asked questions on reverse mentoring.

Reverse mentoring is an approach that acknowledges everyone in the organization brings something to the table. Reverse mentoring partnerships generally include an older, more experienced executive with a younger, less-experienced newcomer. As the name suggests, the younger employee serves as the mentor. Yet, reverse mentoring is indeed a two-way street (at times this can be hard to digest for the senior folks in the organization, how can a junior coach me … well this is the mindset that needs to change)

On one hand, reverse mentoring gives Senior folks an opportunity to stay up-to-date with the latest business technologies and workplace trends. On the other, it helps junior employees see the larger picture and gives them a glimpse of macro-level management issues. Reverse mentoring also increases retention of millennial employees and gives senior executives the satisfaction of sharing their knowledge with the next generation. It increases multi-generational engagement and reduces conflicts between generations in the workplace. More importantly, it is not one-way traffic.

At one of my own customers, they started a reverse mentoring program, the aim was to train CXO in the tools and culture of social media. With entry-level employees in their twenties as mentors, the business leaders soon began to appreciate the power of “searching” for answers on the spot, and they wanted others in the company to benefit from the same flexibility. As a result, social networks that were previously off-limits to company employees were now unlocked. It also helped boost morale and retention of younger employees at the firm

How do we implement Reverse Mentoring at our work Place?

Well, here some ideas and thoughts to start with …

Identify / Find a perfect match

Reverse mentoring involves two people with extremely different experiences, backgrounds, and cultures; therefore, creating an ideal mentoring partnership is vital. Choose mentors who possess good social skills and have the confidence to interact with and teach senior management.

Set a level playing field

Start the reverse mentoring program with a fun and informal orientation. The orientation should give the mentors and mentees an opportunity to interact with each other as individuals – not as the boss or as the newbie who is fresh out of grad school. This will set the stage for the entire program and in time help erase traditional hierarchies.

Set specific formal goals but allow space for individual innovation

It is important to list out what the reverse mentoring program aims to achieve in general, for all participants. However, each mentoring partnership is unique. Mentors and mentees may also enjoy and benefit from helping each other in ways not defined by the program. A young mentor might help a C-suite Exec on how to use the gadget or a CEO might share tips on how a new entrant can advance his / her career. So, factor in the need for informal goals to be met as well.

Consider program automation

If your program has many participants, consider using software to help run your program. It can help you make mentor matches, track progress, and report on results to help you measure program ROI.

Track and Measure Mentoring Outcomes

We always say, measure, measure, measure! It’s the only way to determine what your results might be and prove to senior folks that the program is working. The key to this is determining what you’ll be measuring. Something like employee satisfaction, while nice to have, probably won’t be enough to prove the importance of your program. I suggest focusing on tracking metrics like retention of employees who participated in the program as compared with those who didn’t. Of course, it’s also important to track other information too, such as changes that are happening because of the program and positive feedback, especially from the higher-ups who may be getting mentored for the first time in years.

Reverse Mentoring – A Key Component of Cultivating a Talent Strategy

Remember, reverse mentoring is just one aspect of a comprehensive talent strategy and it’s important to build that out. Comprehensive talent strategies are imperative for refining and retaining employees. They are beneficial in providing both a clear path to success for employees, as well as cultivating successful long-term employees. Research finds that organizations that perform well on business outcomes have a talent strategy and we do hope that you’ll implement reverse mentoring as part of that.

Concluding thoughts …

Reverse mentoring is an innovative use of mentoring. It emphasizes the idea that learning never stops while supporting the idea that the young have something to teach, which is why we see so much interest around it. Consider implementing at your organization to support your talent development goals.

Reverse mentoring puts a face to a concept—it’s easier to ignore a slide show than the compelling young person in front of you.

Now come to think of it, can this be applied in Scrum Teams? Why not, can the Scrum Master learn innovative ideas, thoughts, and concepts from a fresher in the team?

Will the Old Dog (Scrum Master) be ready to take a leap of faith and trust the team members to move its own career ahead?

Should I remind that it is needless to, that we need to inspect and adapt (Agile should be a part of our DNA by now).

By Ajay Kabra, Sr. Director Agile transformation, Xebia IT Architects India Private Limited

1 Comment so far

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  1. Amit
    #1 Amit 29 October, 2019, 12:11

    This is a great idea, the only prerequisite over here is higher management should buy in. It takes a great courage to shatter those walls of hierarchy and take off to see what new horizons are out there. Doing such act also does wonders to the mid and entry level group’s confidence. And there would be no surprises in the way an organisation would reap the benefits.

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